Credit card skimmers are a common and easy way for criminals to steal your credit card data. They work by adding a second magnetic reader head behind the legitimate one, which makes them extremely difficult to notice. Credit card skimmers can be on any credit card reader, which means every transaction has the potential to put you at risk. Luckily, the Hunter Cat portable credit card skimmer detector can help you, and I got my hands on one to test out.
Hunter Cat was developed by Salvador Mendoza, a security researcher, and manufacturer Electronic Cats as an easy way for normal people to find credit card skimmers before a transaction. Hunter Cat is advertised as being extremely easy to use: just insert the credit card-like device into any card reader, and an LED will light up within a second to let you know if a credit card skimmer has been detected. Of course, I wanted to see for myself if it’s actually that simple.
The first thing you’ll notice when the Hunter Cat arrives is that it’s packaged very nicely. That may not be important to the device’s functionality, but it does indicate an attention to detail and quality that is reassuring — this isn’t just a relabeled commodity product. The device itself is also attractive, and the PCB that makes up the “card” is very well manufactured. With the aesthetics out of the way, I needed to see how easy the Hunter Cat was to actually use.
Getting the device ready is as simple as inserting the included CR2032 battery into the slot. That battery should be good for months of use. Once that’s inserted, the LEDs will then blink to let you know it’s ready. Before inserting Hunter Cat into a credit card reader, you just give the single button a quick press. That leads me to my first minor complaint: that button is small and right next to the battery holder, making it slightly difficult to push — at least for people with fat fingers like me. However, you do have 15 seconds to use the card after pushing the button, so that’s only a minor inconvenience.
To see if it could actually detect a credit card skimmer, I went to a few local gas stations around St. Petersburg, Florida. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any skimmers in the wild. At every reader, Hunter Cat indicated that no skimmer was detected. That said, the theory behind the device’s detection hardware, which is handled by a Microchip SAM D11 microcontroller, is sound. I’m confident that it would have picked up a skimmer if one was present.
My only other complaint about the Hunter Cat is that it’s longer than a regular credit card, so there is no way to fit it into a standard folding wallet. As Mendoza explains, that length is necessary for you to keep a firm hold on the card in order to stop some ATMs from “eating” it. But that does make it more difficult to carry around. Personally, I’ll just be keeping mine in my car’s glove box.
Hunter Cat was in pre-sale for a limited time, but now they’re gearing up for a full production run. When it goes on sale it will only cost a mere $29.90, which makes it an affordable way to protect your credit cards.